The 2017 Protests

When and how did these protests start?

The 2017 protests officially began on April 1 in response to a pair of decisions from the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) that came in late March. The first decision stripped National Assembly deputies of their parliamentary immunity which opened them up for immediate prosecution at the whim of the ruling PSUV party, while the second decision granted the TSJ all of the legislature’s powers.

Taken together, the two decisions were widely condemned as signalling the end of the democratic era in Venezuela, as an entire branch of government was neutralized with two pen strokes.

In response to this unprecedented assault on the legislature, the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD), the country’s official opposition bloc, organized a protest for April 1, setting off over a hundred consecutive days of anti-regime protests.

What are people protesting about?

While the April1 protest took place directly as a result of the Supreme Court’s attack on the National Assembly, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets over the coming weeks and months more generally to reject the rule of President Nicolas Maduro and his PSUV party.

By 2017, the scarcity, inflation and insecurity crisis that had set off the last round of national protests back in 2014 had gotten worse. A 2016 inflation rate of 800% destroyed earnings and intensified hunger in the country, while medicine and other basic necessities continued to be scarce.

If the protests began as a sign of discontent with the attack on the legislative branch, they have sustained themselves over a period of more than three months as a sign of discontent with the corrupt and inefficient leadership of President Maduro and the PSUV.

Who exactly was protesting?

The government of President Maduro is more unpopular in 2017 than it has ever been. Survey after survey after survey show that Maduro is universally unpopular, with as many as 8 in 10 Venezuelans disapproving of his term as president and demanding his immediate resignation.

These staggering figures point to one simple fact: the 2017 protests are not about one side of the political divide protesting against the other. They are about an entire people protesting against a deeply unpopular government that is wholly unresponsive to the constant and overwhelming demands for change.

What did the protesters want?

As the surveys linked in the previous section show, Venezuelans demand the right to vote for their political leaders.

Last year, the government of President Maduro cancelled two electoral processes that should have taken place: the recall referendum vote against Maduro himself, and the regional elections for governors, state assemblies and mayors. The reason for the cancelling of these two processes is that, cognizant of its massive unpopularity, the government decided that the only way it could stay in power was not through winning votes, but by simply not calling for any.

The 2014 Protests

When and how did these protests start?

The 2014 protests began with a round of student demonstrations that took place in Mérida, Táchira and Caracas starting around February 8, 2014. These protests began to demand better security on university campuses. These first protests were relatively small and isolated.

On February 10, the public reacted with outrage when news spread that several student protesters had been detained for taking part in the demonstrations. At first, the students were denied access to their lawyers.

These first detentions sparked protests against the perceived assault on the freedom of expression. On February 12, protests in solidarity with the students in Táchira spread throughout the country. People were out protesting insecurity, abuses against constitutional rights, inflation and scarcity. By mid-February, what had started as a student movement in a far-off corner of Venezuela had spread to every major city in the country.

What were people protesting about?

In March of 2014, there were three major issues people were protesting against: insecurity, inflation, and scarcity. As the government’s response to the protests became more and more heavy-handed, human rights abuses were added to the list of grievances.

Here are some statistics about the situation in Venezuela in the early part of 2014:

Who exactly was protesting?

The government will tell you that the protests are limited to a very small group of “fascists” under the direct control of the United States and/or Colombia via their ex-president, Alvaro Uribe. They would also tell you that the people out on the streets are exclusively upper and middle-class Venezuelans who seek a return to the pre-PSUV days.

The opposition will tell you that the protesters are made up of individuals from all walks of life, including the urban and rural poor. There is evidence that this is the case, some of which you can see here. The opposition argument is this: “Insecurity, scarcity and inflation affect everyone, the poor most of all. Therefore, to assume that the poor are not protesting is ignoring the economic and social situation Venezuela finds itself in.”

What did the protesters want?

This is where things get tricky. In Venezuela, “the opposition” means “everyone who is not with the PSUV”. In other words, there a lot of opposition groups in Venezuela. This means that the opposition is struggling, as it has historically, to present a unified front against the PSUV. Some protesters want Maduro and the PSUV kicked out of the country. Others just want concessions from the PSUV that they will work to address these issues. Others want something of a mix of the two.  For better or for worse, this translates into a rather desperate motivation for many people: “I don’t know what I want the government to do, so long as something happens to fix the insecurity/inflation/scarcity”.

Having said that, a survey conducted by a polling organization called Datos on March 16 2014 gives us a hint of what the answer to this question might be. Amongst other points, the survey found that 69% of respondents agreed that the opposition should follow a constitutional path to change the government, and that 64% of respondents agreed that Venezuela has to “[exit this government] as soon as possible through constitutional means.” In other words, it is fair to say that a common government assertion – that the protesters are violent fascists with no regard for the law – is probably false, and that the majority of protesters favour a constitutional, legal transition to another government as soon as possible.

Questions/Comments? E-mail me: invenezuelablog@gmail.com


2 thoughts on “The 2014 and 2017 Protests

  1. Unpopular, yes… like Allende was unpopular in Chile?? We all know what’s the game (many greetings to CIA!), and what you don’t explain in your article is WHY the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia stripped National Assembly deputies of their parliamentary immunity.
    By which other means can a government fight against corruption and treason?

    • Hi Peter,

      Thank you for your comment and for visiting my website. I have in fact written extensively on the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia‘s stance towards the National Assembly in the form of my daily updates. For this reason, I will not rehash the facts again, and will instead point you to a few of the articles where I have written on this very topic: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and eight. Please note that this list is not all-inclusive, but I believe that there is enough of a selection there for you to become acquainted with the topic.

      I will address the rest of your comment below:

      1. “Unpopular, yes… like Allende was unpopular in Chile??”: This is a non sequitur. How popular/unpopular Allende was in Chile has absolutely nothing to do with Maduro’s Venezuela in 2017. Whether Allende had a 0% or a 100% approval rating in Chile is completely irrelevant to this discussion.

      2. “We all know what’s the game (many greetings to CIA!)”: I’m not quite sure what this is in reference to, but I suspect that it might be an allusion to the history of US intervention in Latin America. Again, this has nothing to do with our discussion on the current Venezuelan crisis. I have no doubt that the US/the CIA would like to see Maduro go, but that does not disprove any of the points that I have made in this article, or suggest that millions of Venezuelans are wrong in opposing Maduro.

      3. “and what you don’t explain in your article is WHY the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia stripped National Assembly deputies of their parliamentary immunity.”: As I mentioned above, I have in fact done this extensively in other pieces, some of which I have linked above.

      4. “By which other means can a government fight against corruption and treason?”: The same way that governments have always fought corruption and treason. Venezuela has laws against these acts. If the Public Ministry believes that someone has committed acts of corruption/treason,
      that person can be charged with those crime(s) and prosecuted through the courts. I fail to see how the National Assembly plays into this.
      Chavismo was in full control of the Venezuelan states and its institutions for about 15 years before it lost the National Assembly to the opposition, including the Public Ministry (which is in charge of prosecutions) and the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, the country’s top court. How exactly would abiding by the will of the 13.1 million voters who participated in the 2015 National Assembly election prevent the government from enforcing the law? I’m afraid that I simply don’t understand the point that you’re trying to make.

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